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While the Yankees broke out offensively a little on Wednesday, they have struggled as of late to score runs. Meanwhile, the Astros are one of the best teams in baseball at hitting NRFI. The pitching matchup between Cristian Javier and Clarke Schmidt is also pointing to a scoreless first inning despite Houston being one of the top teams in baseball at scoring early.
Schmidt has been rather consistent in the first inning of games this season, pitching to a 3.00 ERA. He's allowed 21 first-inning hits in his 21 starts this season, so he’s not been perfect. However, Schmidt has come on strong lately, pitching to a 4.43 ERA in July with the Yankees winning his last five starts. He’s also held teams scoreless in the first inning in three of his last four starts. Schmidt has been able to settle in quickly, which wasn’t always the case last season or earlier this season.
On the other side, Javier has been solid if unspectacular in the first inning this year. He owns a 4.05 ERA in the first inning of games, conceding nine runs on 13 hits across his 20 starts. But when he gives up first-inning runs, they tend to come in bunches rather than consistently struggling to get through the first inning unscathed. For instance, he allowed three runs against the Rays in the first inning of his last start, accounting for one-third of his first-inning runs this year. Javier also allowed four first-inning runs against the Cardinals in late June. But in between, he went three straight starts without allowing a run in the first inning, so he should be able to get back on track and keep the Yankees off the scoreboard early on Thursday night.
This game is far from a lock, but there is way better than a 50% chance that the first inning will be scoreless. Sonny Gray starts for the Twins, who have been the third-best team in the majors this year at hitting NRFI. More importantly, Gray has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the first inning of games this year. Meanwhile, the Twins have scored just seven total runs in their last three games, so they aren’t a good candidate to do early damage against Matthew Liberatore.
It’s been an up-and-down season for Liberatore. The 23-year-old has a 6.75 ERA in eight starts and one relief appearance for the Cardinals this season. He only recently got recalled from triple-A, where the young lefty has been far more effective. Liberatore has also conceded 10 runs (six earned) in the first inning of his eight starts. However, four of those runs came in his last MLB start, which was nearly a month ago. He also allowed a four-run first inning against the Cubs in late June. Outside of those two games, Liberatore has been solid in the first inning and should be able to handle a struggling Minnesota lineup in the first inning on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Gray has dominated opposing teams in the first inning on a level most pitchers can only dream about. Across his 21 starts, Gray has allowed just two runs on nine hits, giving him a 0.86 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP in the first inning of games. Even if Gray has faded over the last month or two following a sensational start to the campaign, he has remained close to untouchable in the first inning. Even a St. Louis lineup that ranks in the top 10 with regard to runs in the first inning shouldn’t change that.
Even at -130, there is a lot of value in the Reds and Cubs scoring first-inning runs on Thursday. For starters, the Reds are hitting YRFI 60% of the time, which is the highest rate in the majors. Oddly enough, the Cubs are among the worst teams at scoring runs in the first inning. But they have started to climb the rankings in that category lately and are one of the hottest teams in baseball right now. With Luke Weaver and Jameson Taillon on the mound, there are bound to be early runs in this game.
This is a Chicago lineup that’s scored 41 runs over the first three games of this series, including 20 runs on Tuesday and 16 runs on Wednesday. They are poised to jump all over Weaver, who owns a 6.80 ERA on the season and posted a 6.33 ERA in July. Weaver has conceded runs in the first inning in three of his last four starts. That has caused his first-inning ERA to leap to 12.50 this season, as teams have scored 27 runs (25 earned) on 35 hits in the first inning of his 18 starts. Based on that, it’s almost inevitable for the Cubs to score early again on Thursday.
Taillon hasn’t been quite that bad this year, although he still has a disappointing 6.50 ERA in the first inning of games. He’s also made 18 starts in 2023, allowing 13 earned runs on 21 hits. Luckily for the Cubs, they’ve won the last four games that Taillon has started. But Taillon has also allowed a run in the first inning of two of his last three starts despite posting a 2.67 ERA in July. If Weaver somehow escapes trouble on Thursday, there is a good chance Taillon will allow a first-inning run against a young and dynamic Cincinnati lineup.
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Bryan Zarpentine is a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University and has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 2010. During that time, he has contributed to countless sites while covering baseball, soccer, the NFL, college football, and college basketball.More info on Bryan Zarpentine
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